WOOSTER, Ohio, Nov. 30, 2015 — In response to a spate of negative reaction towards the resettling of Syrian refugees in the United States, the Westminster Presbyterian Church of Wooster, OH has opened its doors to refugees. In a letter sent to Secretary of State John Kerry, the Session of the church (its governing body) says that the congregation “sees itself as a sanctuary and hereby volunteers to welcome up to three refugee families from Syria or elsewhere to help them settle in our community.” The letter goes on to characterize the offer as reflective of “our Christian duty to care for the stranger in need and to help the least of these, our siblings.”
Rev. Andries Coetzee, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church and Partnership Chair of the Israel / Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA), notes, “As Christians and as part of the human family, we are moved to put our faith into action when we see the unfathomable need of our siblings. It is our duty to remind those in power that we do have a responsibility to care for Syrian refugees, especially as our foreign policy is part of the root cause of the refugee crisis.”
The generosity of the Westminster Presbyterian Church is one among a growing number of actions and statements of solidarity coming from Presbyterians nationwide. On November 18, 2015 the Albany Presbytery, representing 64 congregations and more than 6,000 Presbyterians in upstate New York, passed a resolution for “protection and hospitality” for Syrian refugees. The resolution “call[s] upon our state and national leaders to remember our nation’s commitment to inclusion and choose justice over fear in responding to those affected by the Syrian war.”
Rev. Gradye Parsons, the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the largest national body of Presbyterians, has also issued a statement on the crisis entitled “Choose Welcome, Not Fear.” Rev. Parsons writes, “We must witness to the Gospel with generous hospitality. To hide in fear is a mistake. Fear is the ammunition of terror. Hope is the best defense.”
As prophetic voices continue to be raised from within the Presbyterian Church (USA) and other religious bodies throughout the United States, the Israel/Palestine Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) joins with our sisters and brothers in calling our nation to an ethical response of welcome.
Choose welcome, not fear
November 17, 2015
Office of the General Assembly, Louisville, KY
Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk,
We are a world grieving. We mourn the many deaths, not only in Paris, but also in Beirut, Baghdad, and Egypt. Any sense of security we have had is badly compromised by these horrific events; moreover, our fear of ISIS grows with every successful execution of its violent agenda.
Much has been taken from us but we still hold the choice as to how we react in our grief and fear. Many politicians have rushed from grief to fearful judgment. More than half of the governors of our states have attempted to protect their citizens by issuing declarations denying entry of Syrian refugees into their states (as if all of the potential terrorists are Syrian). Some have gone so far as to call for denial of entry to all refugees at the present time, as if that will guarantee safety to the citizens of their state.
As U.S. governors pledge to refuse Syrian refugees within their states and some presidential hopefuls promise to abandon the refugee program altogether, we the people have a choice to make. We can choose to follow those who would have us hide in fear or we can choose hope.
Our nation, for decades, has chosen hope and welcome for those fleeing war and persecution. Since 1975, more than three million refugees have found safety and security within our nation’s borders. Right now 11 million Syrians cannot go to school, tend to their land, or raise their children in the place they know as home. They cannot do these things because they, themselves, have been terrorized for far too long by numerous factions, including their own government.
Do we choose to abandon our plan to protect these Syrians because the people who have been threatening them are now threatening the West as well? ISIS has taken lives; they have taken our sense of security. Do we now hand over our hope and compassion to them?
Obviously, we need to move forward with a disciplined response, expediting security checks such as those employed by the U.S. refugee admission program. To refuse certain persons who are fleeing terror and persecution because they are “Syrian” or of some other particular ethnic group is unjust and may be illegal under U.S. law. We can be disciplined and, at the same time, led to love beyond our own limited, fearful vision.
After the crucifixion of Jesus, the disciples hid in fear. They locked the doors but God had another plan. Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn. 20:21). We were not meant to hide. We were meant to walk out in hope and compassion. Author, poet, and peace activist Wendell Berry wrote, “Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation” (The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays, “The Body and the Earth,” p. 99). The way to end terror is to prove that those who demonize us are wrong. We are not a heartless secular culture. We must witness to the Gospel with generous hospitality. To hide in fear is a mistake. Fear is the ammunition of terror. Hope is the best defense.